If you are after a classic look then you must own a wristwatch with a leather strap. Leather straps, in fact, are a must for the most classic wristwatches though they can also fit casual and even sport models. Thanks to the incredible variety of types of leather and related treatments, it is possible to manufacture straps from the most classic to the most sporty one. Natural leather is the most prestigious and flexible material that can be used for a wristwatch strap. As such, we thought it might be interesting to underline the many elements that contradistinguish leather straps.
The different elements of a leather straps can be classified into the following categories: material, finish and treatment, padding and stitching, structure and closure. For the purpose of this chapter we are not going to cover the closure but if interested you might check our chapter Buckles and Claps. The following section briefly covers the other elements of a leather strap.
The material itself is the one single most important element of the leather strap though also the other elements are instrumental to the overall look and feel and ultimately value of the strap. The choice of type of leather materials is incredible but the important is to look for genuine leather and not for PU or similar alternative materials that emulate the look and feel of leather. Remarkably, also genuine leather is available in a broad range of quality levels, from the inexpensive ones to the most expensive depending on the specific animal and part of its body as well as the specific quality of the piece of leather ultimately used to create the strap.
When it comes to leather, the first aesthetic quality to consider is the structure and whether it has grained vs smooth surface in particular. Most leather watch straps are made from calf hide and a wide range of animal-skin effects can be recreated from that one e.g. croc and alligator or snake and lizard grains. Obviously the genuine leathers with natural grain are the most expensive ones. While calf is probably the most commonly used leather material (thanks to its versatility), alligator and crocodile might be in the second place (more expensive).
Finish and Treatments.
Leather can be treated in a number of different ways to achieve different colors, textures and pattern effects. Watchstraps can be found in traditional black, brown and tan, but also in more vivid colors like red, green, purple and blue amongst others. Every leather strap undergoes one main treatment: tanning. This is the process of treating skin to produce leather that is durable over time. The tanning process can be vegetable or mineral – the vegetable tanning process tends to give less flexible leather while the mineral tanning (which is a faster process) gives more flexible leather and is, in fact, often used also for garments purposes.
Other treatments used on leather straps include waterproofing (e.g. with waxes, dubbin), conditioning and preserving (e.g. with mink oil) as well as treatments meant to modify the surface finishing like for example to achieve shiny vs matte surfaces.
Padding and Stitching.
Leather per se tends to be relatively thin hence to give some structure, higher perceived value and better comfort the watch straps might be padded (even triple padded). The padding consists into adding a cushioning material between two layers of leather and then stitching in order to hold the padding inside. The padding can go through the entire cross section of the strap or just part of it to create different motives like the single or double ridge strap.
The type of stitching completes the overall look of the strap. Those might be very subtle and unnoticeable or very bold and contrasting. Those last are generally used for the more casual or sport watches while the former are used on the more classic and traditional watches.
The structure of the leather strap is most of the time driven by the texture of the leather (e.g. croc pattern) or the padding effect (e.g. double ridge strap). However, some straps might have peculiar structures and one of the most renowned is the rally band.
The rally band is so called because inspired by rally car racing and the old school racing gloves used by the drivers. The most noticeable feature of those bands is the large perforations that run down the length of the strap which pay homage to the perforations once present in many parts of the rally racing cars and gloves. The holes have also a functional benefit making the strap more breathable, lighter and flexible on the wrist.
As mentioned, there is a separate chapter that covers the different kind of closures that can be found on a leather strap but in general the closure can be a buckle or a folding clasp – check the chapter Claps and Buckles for more information.
Despite their incredible flexibility in terms of look and feel leather straps tend not to be very durable hence it is always good habit to carefully take care of them. For example, it is always good to limit contact with water and reduce the direct sun exposure which might lead to a change in color – needless to say that most chemical substances (including common cleaning products) might alter the quality of the leather.
We hope that with this information you are now better equipped to have a more productive conversation on this topic.